Patrick Mahomes would not take no for an answer.
Not from Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid or team doctors as he argued to stay in Saturday’s postseason game.
Mahomes, the NFL’s brightest star, wanted this moment.
Mahomes returned from his right ankle injury in the second half to lead the Chiefs to a 27-20 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars at Arrowhead Stadium to reach the AFC championship game for the fifth straight year.
And he would not be denied.
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“I’m not coming out of a playoff game unless they take me out,” Mahomes told reporters after his X-rays came back negative.
“I’m just going to play. I love this sport too much. I love this game. I love playing with my teammates, and being able to go out there and enjoy it together. And we prepared all year to be in the playoffs and to play in these games.’
No matter the opponent, how Mahomes’ ankle recovers is a major story line leading into the AFC title game next week.
Mahomes, 27, has one Super Bowl. But having a second Super Bowl ring would further solidify his legacy.
After winning his first in the 2019 season, Mahomes has lost to Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in the Super Bowl in 2020, and they lost to Joe Burrow and the Bengals in the AFC title game last season.
Mahomes’ injury, diagnosed as a high ankle sprain, could be the difference in breaking through again during his Super Bowl window, or the window opening for someone else.
“I just love competing in this sport,” Mahomes said. “Pain is pain and you have to deal with it either way.”
Now, the Chiefs will play the waiting game. They await the winner of Sunday’s game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills. More importantly, they’ll wait to see how Mahomes’ ankle responds.
“It feels better than I thought it was going to be now,” Mahomes said of his ankle after completing 22 of 30 for 195 yards with two touchdown passes.
“Obviously I have a lot of adrenaline going right now, so we’ll see how it feels (later). But I’ll hop right into treatment tonight and try to do whatever I can to be as close to 100 percent by next week. Luckily for us, we played the early game on Saturday so we get an extra half a day that I can let the ankle rest.”
Mahomes pleaded with Reid during the second quarter to stay in the game after a field goal ended the drive he sustained the injury. He was taken down by two Jaguars defenders with less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter with his right leg going sideways.
“It was hard getting him out of the game first of all,” Reid said. “He wanted to fight.”
But Mahomes eventually relinquished. He took his X-ray and remained out for the rest of the second quarter. He performed some movements for the medical staff in the locker room to ensure he would be able to protect himself and avoid another injury.
As halftime ended, Mahomes was one of the first Chiefs players on the field, and when the third quarter began, Chiefs fans gave him a loud ovation as he returned to play.
A reporter asked Reid how motivated Mahomes was to return.
“It would be like me trying to ask you not to ask a question,” Reid said with a laugh.
“Listen, he’s a tough kid. He wanted to be in there. He wanted to be in there competing and that’s a tribute to him and his competitiveness. However, you got to make sure he’s physically okay to protect himself, and if he can’t, he can’t play. When I tell you he’s competitive, he’s very competitive.”
Mahomes struggled at times, naturally so. He ran with a hop to and from the Chiefs sideline and threw many passes with his heavily taped foot planted.
One play after a short incomplete pass, Mahomes adjusted to complete a 15-yard pass to Travis Kelce – who had 14 catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns – and a 16-yard pass to Juju Smith-Schuster up the sideline.
Mahomes even stepped up into the pocket and threw a jump pass off his left leg to receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling that gave Kansas City a 10-point lead with 7:08 remaining.
Still, the Chiefs offense did have its hiccups upon Mahomes’ return, including four punts in the second half and a 50-yard field goal in the third quarter that kept Kansas City ahead.
“Obviously, I missed some throws I probably could’ve made if I was in the right foot position,” Mahomes said. “But luckily for me, I’m not in the right foot position all the time so I’m able to make some throws like that anyways.”
While Mahomes was able to overcome his injury in this game, his right ankle could be the reason the Chiefs fall short this postseason.
Joe Burrow and the Bengals have won three straight games against the Chiefs, including last season’s AFC title game. The Bills, on the other hand, hope to avenge their last two playoff losses to the Chiefs. And if the Chiefs outlast either team next week, the NFC’s best will await them knowing Mahomes still may not be at full strength during the Super Bowl next month.
Mahomes knows the stakes.
“Now, we’ll find a way to get to the Super Bowl,” Mahomes said.